QnA: Developing skills for scientific enquiry

In June 2014 on June 17, 2014 at 9:34 pm


Sarah: Last week I spoke about science writing and blogging to postgraduate journalism students at the University of South Australia. Following the lecture, the students and I had a great Q&A session which has now spilled over into email conversations. Today a student sent me these two great questions:

Query: I was interested in your point (made during the lecture) about your daughters’ teacher who, although she had never studied science formally, taught children to ask open ended questions/ have an inquiring mind/ participate in open ended conversations. Would you say these inquiry skills are most important for students to learn in science classes at primary school

Students are blogging more and more these days and I thought blogging may be a good way for students to develop their science inquiry skills, ie. question, predict, plan, conduct, process & analyse data, evaluate and especially – communicate. As a notable ‘science blogger’, what do you think about this idea?

Response: Yes, I do think inquiry skills are a critical aspect of primary school education – and not just valuable to science either. The best adult scientists have an awareness that there is never a single or correct answer ‘out there’ to each dilemma. Investigating scientific theories – also know as hypotheses – involves seeking evidence. New information either supports or refutes your hypothesis, and then you refine your hypothesis on the weight of evidence. So learning to keep an open mind, ask lots of questions, not to be put off by different kinds of evidence is an important lesson to learn early. Having teachers who aren’t afraid to say “oh well, that’s interesting/unexpected” and to invite kids to reconsider their thoughts on how things work is so valuable. If kids are taught to seek ‘the answer’ and not be able to discriminate the quality of the information they see, it’s probably very difficult to undo.

I think blogging can also be a useful way to learn research skills – but with some limitations. As long as the blogger has a rigorous approach to seeking and evaluating the quality of evidence, it can work. Seeking confirmation of facts through alternative sources is also important. In addition, using the internet as a research tool has some limitations. For example, using Google to search for evidence will return information tailored to suit the user based on past activity, not on the quality of evidence necessarily. Also, on social media – as in real life – people tend to collect people around them who reflect their own views. These may not necessarily be balanced and evidence-based views.

Addendum: When I posted this same article on the ScienceforLife.365 Facebook community, and shared to my own personal page, I received responses from two teachers whose opinion I respect.

This comment is from a university teacher: Yes and no. Yes, that students need to have open-minded and thoughtful teachers that allow the students to consider things in their own open way (which I think is the essence of the above). However, it is just as important to ask questions that lead to conclusions. Too often ideas are bounced around via open questions that never get resolved. I think that is the second part of the post, and it’s true that students need to come some conclusion in the end that is consistent with what science says.

This comment from a teacher of junior primary aged children: When I pose a question through provocation in the classroom it has a twofold purpose. To invite children in to both the theory and the language of science and to orchestrate the learning to enable the children to achieve the scientific outcomes. When we empower the scientific competencies in even the youngest of children we are inspired by the deep thinking and learning that occurs. We hear the children name themselves as scientists and use complex scientific language in their everyday learning. We look now, always at the child as competent rather than an empty vessel that needs to be filled! Great post!

[image thanks to audio luci store on flickr]


  1. Reblogged this on How big is the world and commented:
    Thoughts on the importance of asking questions in primary school, and how the ways a teacher responds and models this thinking out loud can support critical thinking and science… What do you think?
    P.S. Follow Science for Life. 365 for great thoughts and ideas about science and scientific research, etc.

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